To God or to Mammon? – by Leo Tolstoy

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”—Luke xvi. 13.

“He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not for me scatters abroad.”—Matthew xii. 30.

Enormous areas of the very best lands – by which millions of now poverty-stricken families might be fed – are taken with tobacco, vineyards, barley, hemp, and especially rye and potatoes, – grown to produce intoxicating beverages: wine, beer, and especially vodka.

Millions of workers who could be making things useful for people are occupied in the production of this stuff. In England it is estimated that one-tenth of all the working people are employed to produce brandy and beer.

What are the consequences of the production and consumption of tobacco, wine, vodka, beer?

There is an old story about a monk who bet with the devil that he would not allow him into his cell; but if the devil gets in, he’d agree to do whatever the devil should order him to do. The story tells how the devil took the form of a wounded raven with its bloody wing trailing, and hopped around pitifully at the door of the monk’s cell. The monk took pity of the raven and took him into his cell. And so the devil, having gotten in, gave the monk a choice of three crimes: murder, fornication, or drunkenness. The monk chose drunkenness, thinking that if he got intoxicated he would harm only himself. But when the liquor took over him, he lost control of his reason, he went to the village and there, yielding to temptation of a woman, he committed adultery with her, and then murder by defending himself from her husband, who returned and attacked him.

Just as the old story showed the consequences of drunkenness, so are the consequences of the use of intoxicating beverages in real life.

A burglar or murderer are unlikely to commit a crime when they are sober. According to the reports of courts, ninety percent of crimes are committed when people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most convincing argument that the large number of offences are linked to liquor is proved by the fact that in certain states of America, where wine and the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors are prohibited, crimes have almost ceased. There are no robberies, or thefts, or murders, and the jails are empty. This is one consequence of the use of intoxicating drinks.

Another consequence is the harmful influence produced by intoxicating beverages on the health of the people. Beside the fact that intoxicating drinks cause various painful illnesses specific to drunkards, many of whom die of them, it is to be noted that men who drink recover from ordinary diseases with greater difficulty than others, so that in life insurance, the insurance companies always prefer the risks on those that do not use intoxicating drinks. This is the second consequence of the use of intoxicating beverages.

The third and most horrible consequence of intoxicating beverages is that liquor clouds the intellect and conscience of men; from the use of liquor men become more harsh, senseless, and meaner.

What advantage is there from the use of intoxicating drinks? None! The advocates of vodka, wine, beer, assure us in advance that these drinks enhance the health and strength, make warm and cheer. But now it is indisputably proved that this is not true. Intoxicating beverages do not improve the health, because they contain a violent poison,—alcohol,—and the use of a poison cannot be not harmful.

That wine does not increase a man’s strength as has been proved many times, and by the fact that when the work of a drinking mechanic and of a mechanic who does not drink are compared, during the course of months and years, the non-drinking man always does more and better work than the drinker; and by the fact that in those groups of soldiers which received vodka during operations there were always more incapacitated and more stragglers than in those where vodka was not given.

Also it has been proved that liquor does not warm up, and that the heat felt after drinking liquor does not keep for long, and that the man, after the brief increase in temperature, soon gets colder than before, so it’s much harder for a drinker to endure prolonged cold than for a non-drinker. Most often, people who freeze to death every year are frozen because they warm themselves with liquor.

It is not necessary to prove also that the gaiety that comes from wine is not real and not joyous. Everyone knows what sort of thing this drunken gaiety is. All that’s required is to take a look at what is done on holidays at the pubs in cities and in the villages, – at what is happening on holidays, at weddings, and christenings. This drunken gaiety always ends with insulting words, fights, injured members, all kinds of crimes, and the loss of human dignity.

Wine does not bring health or strength or warmth or gaiety, but only brings great harm to people. And therefore it would seem to be wise for every reasonable and decent person not only not to use intoxicating drinks himself but also not to offer them others, and to try with all his might to stop the common use of this useless and dangerous poison.

But unfortunately this is not what’s happening. People are so attached to the old habits and customs, and find it so difficult to unlearn them, that in our days very many good, kind, and reasonable men who not only do not stop to drink and offer alcohol to others, but even defend the use of it with all their might.

Wine,” they say, “is not to blame, but drunkenness is to be condemned. King David said, ‘Wine cheers the heart of man.” “If it were not for the drinking, government would have its chief revenue.” “It is impossible to celebrate a holiday, to hold a wedding, or a christening, without wine. One must drink something at the conclusion of a bargain or a sale, or at the meeting with a dear friend.” “In our poverty and in our labor we must drink,” says a low-income worker. “If we drink only occasionally and temperately, we do no harm to anyone,” say well-to-do people. “The gayety of Russia is in drinking,” said Prince Vladimir. “By our drinking we do no harm anyone but ourselves. And if we harm only ourselves, then that is our business; we don’t want to teach anyone and we don’t want to be taught by anyone; we did not begin this and it is not for us to put an end to it,” say frivolous people.

That’s how drinkers of various classes and ages talk, justifying themselves. But these justifications, which worked some decades of years ago, now no longer make sense. It was easy to say this when all men thought that the use of intoxicating drinks was a harmless pleasure, that intoxicating drinks add health and strength; when they did not know yet that wine contained a poison always harmful to human health, when people did not know yet the terrible consequences of drunkenness, which are now obvious in front of our eyes.

It was easy to say this when there were not those hundreds and thousands of men prematurely dying in cruel sufferings simply because they got addicted to drinking intoxicating beverages, and could not anymore abstain from them. It was easy to say that wine is a harmless pleasure when we hadn’t seen those hundreds and thousands of poor tormented women and children suffering because their husbands and fathers had addicted to wine.

It was easy to say this when we hadn’t witnessed these hundreds and thousands of criminals filling jails, exiles, hard labor camps, and women leading a dissolute lives because of wine.

It was easy to say this before we knew that hundreds of thousands of men who could have lived their lives with happiness for themselves and others, have ruined their energies and intellects and souls simply because intoxicating beverages existed and they were tempted by them.

And therefore it is no longer possible, in our time, to claim that the drinking or non-drinking of wine is a private affair, that we do not consider the moderate use of wine injurious to ourselves, and do not wish to teach any one or be taught by any one, that we did not begin it and it is not for us to end it. It is immoral to say this now: the use of wine or abstinence from it is, in our days, not of a private matter, but a public matter.

Now all people – it whether they wish it or not – are divided into two camps: those who are fighting against the use of the worthless poison, intoxicating drinks, by words and deeds, by not consuming wine and not offering it to others; and those in the opposite camp who uphold the use of this poison by word and acts and, stronger than anything else, by force of example; and this argument continues now in all countries, and now for twenty years with especial violence in Russia.

“When you did not know, you didn’t sin,” told Christ. But now we know what we are doing and whom we are serving when we consume wine and offer it to others, and consequently, if we, who know the sin of using wine, go on drinking or offering it to others, then we have no excuse.

And let not people say that it is impossible to avoid drinking and offering wine on special occasions – on holidays, weddings, and similar occasions; that all do this, that our fathers and grandfathers did this, and therefore it is impossible for us alone to stand out against all the rest.

This is not true: our fathers and grandfathers abandoned evil and harmful practices ill effects of which became known to them; in the same way also we are must stop the evil which has manifested in our day. And the fact that wine has become a frightful evil in our days is beyond all questions.

How, then, if I know that the use of intoxicating drinks is an evil destroying hundreds of thousands of men, can I offer this evil to my friends who come to my house for a festival, a christening, or a wedding?

Not always was everything as it is now, but everything has changed from worse to better; and the change has come about not of itself but by people fulfilling what reason and conscience has demanded of them. And now our reason and our conscience in the most actual manner demand of us that we stop drinking wine and offering it to others.

Usually people consider worthy of blame and scorn such drunkards as go to taverns and pubs and get so drunk that they lose their reason, and become so addicted to wine that they cannot control themselves, and drink up all they have. But those people who buy wine for home consumption drink every day and “in moderation” and offer wine to their guests in customary circumstances – such people are considered good and honorable and not as doing anything wrong. And yet these very people are more deserving reprimand than the drunkards. The drunkards have become drunkards only because those that non-drunkards, without harming themselves, taught others to drink wine, tempted them by their example.

Drunkards never would have become drunkards if they had not seen “honored” people, respected by everyone, drinking wine and offering it to others. A young man who has never taken wine will know the taste and the effect of wine at festivals, at weddings, at the houses of these honored people who are not themselves drunkards, but who drink and set it before their guests on all known occasions.

And so he who drinks wine, no matter how moderately, or offers it in whatever special occasions, commits a great sin. He tempts those whom he is was warned not to tempt, of whom it was said, “Woe to him that tempts one of these younger ones.

They say, “We did not start it, and it is not for us to end it.” It is for us to end it if we only understand that for every one of us the drinking or non-drinking of wine is not a matter of indifference; that with every bottle of wine bought, every glass of wine consumed, we are serving that terrible devilish deed whereby the best strength of humanity is wasted; but, on the other hand, by refraining from wine for ourselves, and by stopping this insane custom of using wine at festivals, weddings, and christenings, we are performing a work of the utmost importance – our soul’s work, God’s work. As soon as we have understood this, then will drunkenness be stopped by us.

And therefore, my reader, whoever you may be – a young man only just entering upon life, or a grown man who have already established your life, a master of a house or a mistress of a house, or an aged man for whom now the time is near for accounting for the deeds you have done, whether you are rich or poor, famous or unknown, whoever you are, you cannot anymore stay between these two camps, you unavoidably must choose one of the two: to oppose drunkenness or cooperate with it – serve God or mammon.

If you are a young man who have never as yet taken liquor, never yet been poisoned by wine, treasure your innocence and freedom from temptation. If you taste, this temptation will become harder for you to overcome. And do not believe that wine will increase your joyfulness. At your time of life joyfulness is natural, genuine; and wine only changes your true, innocent joyfulness into a drunken, senseless, vicious gaiety. Above all, beware of wine, because at your time of life it will be harder for you to resist other temptations; wine weakens in you the power of reason, which is most essential at your age to help you resist temptations. After drinking, you will do what you would not think of doing when sober. Why subject yourself to such a terrible risk?

If you are a grown man who have already got into the habit of using intoxicating drinks, or who are just beginning to form that habit, hurry while there is yet time to get rid of this awful habit, or else before you look around it will get control of you, and you may become like those that are irrevocably drunkards, who have perished because of wine. All of them began just as you have. Even if you have the ability throughout your life to consume intoxicating drinks in moderation, and may not yourself become a drunkard, yet if you continue to drink wine and serve it at your table, you may perhaps make your younger brother, your wife, your children drunkards, for they may not have the strength as you have to confine themselves to a moderate use of wine. And, above all, understand that on you, as a person who have reached the very prime time of life, as the master or mistress of the house, as the controller of the destiny of others, rests the responsibility of guiding the lives of your household. And therefore if you know that wine has no use, but causes great evil to people, then not only are you not obliged slavishly to do as your fathers and grandfathers used to do, – to consume wine, to buy it and serve it to others, – but, on the contrary, you are obliged to stop this custom and replace it with other.

And be not afraid that the change in the custom of drinking wine at festivals, christenings, and weddings, will very deeply humiliate or trouble people. In many places they have already begun to do this, substituting for the wine appetizing food and non-alcoholic drinks, and people, and the very foolish, wonder only at first but quickly get used to it and approve.

If you are an old man at an age when you will very shortly be called upon to render your account to God, how you have served Him, and instead of warning the young and inexperienced from wine, the terrible evil of which you must have seen in the course of your life, you have tempted your neighbor by your example, drinking wine and offering it to others, you have been committing a mighty sin.

Woe to the world because of temptations! Temptations have to come into the world, but woe to him through whom they come.

Only let us understand that in the matter of consuming wine there is no half way, and whether we desire it or not – we must choose between two – serving God or serving mammon.

“He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not for me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12-30.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *